Saturday, November 12, 2005

Oh Yoshi, They Don't Believe Me

A while back, I went to see a very funny, very raw stand-up comedian named Yoshi at the Westwood Brewing Company. Today, my roommmate Nathan uncovered this article in the Boston Herald, about how a recent episode of Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" may have ripped off an old Yoshi joke:

Yoshi Obayashi, an L.A.-based stand-up comedian, saw something a little too familiar in the “Kamikaze Bingo” episode, which first aired Oct. 16 and remains available via Comcast On Demand.

The premise: David makes fun of his friend Yoshi once he finds out Yoshi’s elderly father was a former kamikaze pilot who didn’t die in World War II. Cringeworthy hilarity ensues, including a failed suicide attempt by Yoshi.

Here's what's strange...I've seen Yoshi do his own kamikaze pilot joke and I watched the Bingo episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," but I didn't notice the joke was ripped off. Maybe because it's one of the very few jokes in Yoshi the Comedian's catalogue that doesn't include topics like baby rape or assaulting the handicapped, so I just plum forgot about it.

The real-life Yoshi, 36, has opened the majority of his stand-up gigs for years with a similar bit. A Seattle Times article in 2000 even quoted his joke: “My grandfather is a retired kamikaze pilot. Obviously not very good.”

Unfortunately, it seems that Yoshi can't do his kamikaze pilot joke any more, because people think he's ripping off Larry David. It reminds me of the Dylan documentary No Direction Home. An old folk singer is upset that Dylan ripped off his arrangement to "House of the Rising Sun" during Bob's first-ever professional recording. He couldn't perform it any longer because people would accuse him of ripping off Dylan.

Of course, soon after, The Animals re-recorded Dylan's stolen version of "House of the Rising Sun" and made it a huge hit. So, now, Dylan can't perform "House of the Rising Sun" without people thinking he ripped it off.

I think the moral of the story is that there are no new ideas out there, so anything you say or do has probably already been done before. I'm sure Yoshi wasn't the first guy to make a wiseass comment about a kamikaze pilot who has survived the war...He just happened to get there before Larry David:

David, who has a home on Martha’s Vineyard, said he had never heard of nor seen Obayashi and picked the name Yoshi for the storyline because it sounded funny.

“It’s just unfortunate,” David said. “It’s totally bizarre. It’s completely bizarre.”

But all a coincidence, he says.

“I should call the guy,” David said.

So he did.

Yeah, this is a really poorly-written article. I ought to be writing for the Boston Herald if this is as good as they can do. I mean, you should never ever end a news article with "so he did." What is this, a fucking Paddington Bear story?

"Then, Mrs. Dewberry asked if Paddington would like to go and get some crumpets from the conservatory...So, he did. The End."

I believe David. I mean, it's not the most obscure joke in the world...he probably did just think it up on his own. (Although naming the character Yoshi is awfully strange).

I've been thinking about a big comedy script I'd like to write as my next, um, undertaking, and I've run into the same sort of situation. Without giving away all of the details of the story, let me just say that it involves a character based loosely on Jean-Claude Van Damme. I realized only the other day that an old episode of "The Critic," that Jon Lovitz cartoon, made fun of Jean-Claude Van Damme in a similar way as my script (including giving their character the highly-amusing name Jean-Paul Le Pope).

Is there a chance that a joke or two I write will overlap "The Critic"? Absolutely. This is the sort of thing that used to bother me a lot when writing comedy - the idea that someone would read a joke in my script and relate it to another joke they had seen, and then think of me as some kind of hack who rips off old jokes.

But the more comedies I watch, on TV and in movies, the more I realize all the jokes are old, and it's the context that keeps people laughing.

Example: how many movies and TV shows have borrowed the old "secretly feed someone laxatives and wait for their bowels to clench" joke? I can think of two films off the top of my head - American Pie and Dumb and Dumber - but I'm sure there's 100 more. It's not the set-up that's funny...It's seeing Jeff Daniels running around a house frantically trying to find the bathroom because he has to made #2 urgently.

So I'm glad Yoshi and Larry David have worked everything out. Maybe Larry should consider giving Yoshi a guest spot on the show. He could be hilarious on there, and it's HBO, so he'd be allowed to work blue. I wouldn't suggest he show up on "Two and a Half Men" or anything any time soon, as network TV tends to frown on virulently racist humor, but "Curb" ought to be alright.

I Left My Bomb Parts in San Francisco

Isn't that always the way? I write a blog post ripping Bill O'Reilly for saying something stupid on his TV show, and he goes and says something even stupider that very same week on his radio show. Bill is so crazy, angry and misguided, I can't even keep up...and, people, I'm a guy with some time on my hands, particularly since I've come down with this Australian Wombat Flu or whatever it is.

Those of you who glance at political websites are probably already clued in to this story...It has been making headlines across the blogosphere. Here's what Bill said on Election Day, in reference to a measure on the ballot in San Francisco barring military recruiters from hanging out on public school grounds:

"Listen, citizens of San Francisco, if you vote against military recruiting, you're not going to get another nickel in federal funds. Fine. You want to be your own country? Go right ahead," O'Reilly said, according to a transcript and audio posted by liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America, and by the San Francisco Chronicle.

"And if al-Qaida comes in here and blows you up, we're not going to do anything about it. We're going to say, look, every other place in America is off limits to you, except San Francisco. You want to blow up the Coit Tower? Go ahead," O'Reilly continued, referring to the 1933 San Francisco landmark that sits atop Telegraph Hill.

Yeah! You tell 'em, Bill! If San Francisco votes on a measure with which you disagree, sic al-Qaeda on them!

Good lord...what an asshole...Of course, many people from San Francisco have already taken issue with O'Reilly for his comments. They do, after all, sound a lot like an American actively encouraging terrorists to attack a specific, and populated, target in America. And isn't encouraging the enemy the exact thing that gets O'Reilly so upset? (Well, that and the fact that some elementary school kids don't get to sing 'O Holy Night' in the school's holiday pageant, and instead must make do with the non-demoninational 'Frosty the Snowman.').

Interesting side note: Keith Olbermann, host of the only cable news show worth watching, points out that O'Reilly has removed the San Francisco comment from his show's transcript. Clearly forgetting that once something has been broadcast, some people might have already heard what he said or even recorded his insanity.

I'm Sick Like an Idiot Over Here


I woke up yesterday morning not feeling very well, a feeling which morphed into a disease-ridden nightmare a few hours later. We're in Day 2 of the illness now, and I'm not sneezing and blowing my nose quite as much, but I have the added delight of coughing up fun stuff every few minutes.

I was going to post this yesterday, a brief note telling you all I was sick and apologizing for not blogging more, but I literally could not pull myself out of bed for the vast majority of the afternoon and evening. Instead, I watched Midnight Run, Werner Herzog's documentary Lessons of Darkness about Saddam's torching of Iraq's oil fields during Gulf War the First, and a few episodes of "Veronica Mars" before passing out in a Nyquil daze.

Today, as I said, some of the symptoms have subsided. I can now sit up and walk around without my sinuses experiencing pressure such as they would in the Marianas Trench. And, as I said, I am blowing my nose less, which hopefully means my roommates will have some toilet paper left over for the next day or two.

But I still don't feel what I would consider...good. Or even okay. I don't get sick very often (in fact, I dare say this is the first time this calendar year in which I have actually been sick), but when I do, it's fairly unpleasant.

Actually, I'm not sure about that. It could be that, because I don't get sick very often, I'm a total wuss about it. Maybe I feel right now like most people do when they get sick, even though they still manage to pick themselves up and go about the business of their day. I, on the other hand, can't get out of bed for any longer than it takes to fetch another container of orange juice from the fridge.

Friday, November 11, 2005

If It's Not Christian, It's Crap!

Bill O'Reilly and his pro-Christmas crusade is really the gift that keeps on giving. I look forward to O'Reilly rants about how "secular progressives" are destroying Christmas like some people look forward to that stop-motion animated Rudolph special.

(Did you ever really think about that Rudolph special? Doesn't it teach children that only those people who are useful are deserving of our love and acceptance? I mean, even if Rudolph's nose didn't light up, and he wasn't useful in guiding Santa's sleigh, shouldn't he still be invited to play in reindeer games? And the whole concept of an Island of Misfit Toys is just disconcerting. What kind of odd eugenic experiement is sending away all the "broken" toys anyway?)

This rant, from the November 8th edition of Willy's Fox News show, helpfully transcribed by Media Matters, might be the single most amusing Bill O'Reilly session I have ever seen. He's really elevating narrow-minded angry politically-themed ranting to the level of fine art. Have we ever considered the possibility that Bill O'Reilly is actually a character created by a brilliant performance artrist, the perfect loudmouth caricature?

As you know, Christmas has become controversial in America. Public displays of the federal holiday are under attack by the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union], and some department stores even tell employees to avoid saying "Merry Christmas." So we decided to look at some retail policies this year, and here's what we found out: Sears/Kmart would not answer our questions. Spokesman Chris Braithwaite simply ducked the issue. Their website banners: "Wish Book Holiday 2005." They were the worst we had to deal with. OK? Sears/Kmart.

What is Bill upset about, again? Firstly: Sears/Kmart calls their holiday catalog "Wish Book Holiday 2005" instead of something more Christmas-y. I don't know exactly what it is that Bill would prefer..."Christmas Wish List for Chrsitians" or something like that. Maybe "Jesus' Big Book of Bargains." That has a nice ring. Secondly: Spokesman Chris Braithwaite didn't return Bill's phone call.

And, folks, let me tell you, Bill is kind of sensitive about getting return phone calls. He waited up all night for Chris to call, pacing around his bedroom, asking anyone within shouting distance why Chris, who seemed like such a nice guy, and who really seemed to like him, wouldn't call him back. Then, he ate an entire pint of Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby ice cream and went to sleep listening to his favorite Sarah McLachlan albums on repeat.

JCPenney says its catalog is always called "Christmas catalog." Federated Department Stores -- Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Burdines -- says the words "Merry Christmas" will be used in most advertising. Same thing at May, Filene's, Lord & Taylor, and Marshall Field's.

I just want to reiterate that this is all really stuff that Bill O'Reilly said on television. You know, it's not like there isn't anything important going on in America right now. 2005 has been perhaps the most eventful year, current events-wise, of my entire lifetime. Ongoing war and tumult in the Middle East, massive horrific natural disasters, protests in France rivaling the student unrest of 1968, the indictment of a high-ranking government official, an ongoing investigation into the leak of an undercover agent by the White House, shutting down the government to discuss possible fraud in the lead-up to the Iraq War, the reversal of America's long-standing policy against torture, the nomination of a hard-line conservative to the Supreme Court...And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

And this guy is analyzing how each individual department store is choosing to refer to Christmas? Even if you are Christian and you love Christmas, who gives a flying fuck?

But Kohl's refused to define how the company will deal with Christmas. Dillard's, however, will use the slogan "Discover Christmas, Discover Dillard's." So there you go. Shop where you like the atmosphere. Just remember, Kohl's and Sears/Kmart, basically, not all right.

Oh, man, that last sentence is classic, classic O'Reilly. "Shop where you like. I'm not telling you where to shop. Just know that you shouldn't shop here or here. But shop wherever you want! There's no spin here!"

Does he genuinely believe that Christmas is under attack by the ACLU and some shadowy, mysterious group calling themselves the "secularists"? Or is he just using this lame theory as a way of inducing panic into the simple-minded and ultra-religious, preying on their fanaticism, love of Christmas and fear of non-Christians?

I'm tempted to say the latter, that O'Reilly is just an opportunist latching on to this issue, but I'm not positive. Mainly because he does such a poor job of making a reasonable argument. A cynical opportunist would probably research the issue, in order to formulate an argument likely to resonate with the most people. O'Reilly seems to just blurt out whatever fool idea enters his head, which would be more the tendency of a mindless ideologue with no agenda outside his own, personal prejudices. Check out some of this exchange between Billy O and business/retail affairs author Phillip Nulman:

O'REILLY: All right, 85 percent of Americans say they're Christians. Christmas is a federal holiday, signed into law by [President] U.S. Grant. And we're living in a time where some retail outlets will not say "Merry Christmas." Insane?

Insane? Is that really the right choice of word? Is that a good way to open a topic, blatantly accusing anyone who holds a different opinion of actual insanity? Why is it insane to not alienate 15% of the population, when a formulation like "Happy Holidays" does the same job without alienating anyone?

This is basically what Nulman, a seemingly normal person of reasonable intelligence, says:

No, no, I don't think it's insane. I think that it's good business practice, actually. And many organizations are trying desperately to be inclusionary. They feel that the use of "Merry Christmas" in their packaging, their bags, their messages, their environment is just the opposite. It's exclusionary to the 15 or 20 percent of the customer base that is not Christian.

These companies are not beholden to any bizarre secular conspiracy. I know, because I'm a secularist! If there was an atheist conspiracy to rid the world of Christmas, I'd have probably heard about it. (And if I had to vote on one Christian thing to get rid of from American society, it wouldn't be Christmas, which sometimes means cookies and presents even for little Jewboys like myself...It would be, in this order, (1) The Intelligent Design non-debate, (2) Pat Robertson and the 700 Club and (3) those stupid Jesus "footprints" wood carvings all those douchebags have up in their living rooms...What a steaming load...)

They're just making a sensible business decision...More people are likely to be turned off by a message for a religious holiday they don't celebrate than by an intentionally generic phrase that can be applied to any religion. In other words, Christians don't get pissed when you say "Happy Holidays," but some Jews or Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus or atheists get pissed when you say "Merry Christmas." So by saying "Happy Holidays," you avoid upsetting anybody. That's just logical.

I mean, it makes some sense, right Billy O?

See, I think you're, I think you're crazy. And here's why. I think the backlash against stores that don't say "Merry Christmas" is enormous because now people are aware of the issue. There's going to be -- it's like the third or fourth year that we've reported it. I know everybody's hypersensitive about are they going to say "Merry Christmas"? Are they going to say "Happy Holidays"? What are they going to say? Are there decorations that say "Merry Christmas"? They're hypersensitive.

It's stunning, isn't it? Please, take a moment and reread that. The man's ego dwarves anyone else's I've ever my life. Not only is he insinuating that he has some measure of influence over some people's way of thinking. Bill here actually asserts that he's capable of steering the national dialogue, of dictating views to not just some but a majority of Americans.

"People will be upset when they hear 'Happy Holidays' because I've been talking about it for four years in a row."

Can you imagine anyone, anyone, being asked a similar question and responding in that way? What if you asked Steven Spielberg, "Why do you think dinosaurs so capture the imaginations of children?," he would respond, "Well, I made Jurassic Park like 10 years ago! Of course everyone likes dinosaurs now."

Of course, he'd never take credit for something like that. Because he has some semblance of decorum and humility. Even in cases where it might be true - like Lance Armstrong causing Americans to get more interested overall in cycling - you wouldn't really hear such self-aggrandizing statements from the individuals themselves.

Now, the other thing is, I don't believe most people who aren't Christian are offended by the words "Merry Christmas." I think those people are nuts. I think you're crazy if you're offended by the words "Merry Christmas." So you're basically only knocking out your nutty customers. And why do you want them anyway?

First off, I'd like to point out that without the all-important "nutty customer" demographic, Laser Blazer would probably go out of business this week. Bill is clearly not a businessman, as I have never heard any executive speak favorably about alienating any potential customers. Businesses must grow to survive, and the best way to grow is to make yourself accessible to the most customers possible. If that means removing explicitly religious rhetoric from your marketing, that sounds reasonable enough to me.

But the larger issue here, of course, is that Bill has called anyone who doesn't like being wished a Merry Christmas crazy. And not like, "Oh, come on, that's crazy...", using the phrase colloquially. He's actually saying you're crazy. Like, "Hey, this guy hates Christmas! He's dangerously insane! What horrible psychosis could cause such a strange reaction in a human being?"

As for me, even though I downright dislike Christmas, I've been wished a Merry Christmas thousands of times, and it has never actually upset me. Usually, by late November, I get numb to holiday cheer, and it stops fazing me all together. (Except Christmas carols...Oh how I hate stupid sing-songy Christmas carols.) But that doesn't mean that someone who is more sensitive on this issue than me is nuts. I suspect someone who took their Judaism or Islam or Hinduism or whatever seriously might be upset if, everywhere they went the last 2 months of the year, people spoke to them about a holiday they don't celebrate.

If people stopped Bill every day to wish him a Happy Ramadan, you figure he'd just take it and not respond in any way?

Here's the last part of the interview I'll excerpt. Nulman makes a reasonable point:

"Season's Greetings" and "Happy Holidays," Bill, does not offend Christians.

To which O'Reilly responds:

Yes, it does. It absolutely does. And I know that for a fact. But the smart way to do it is "Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Season's Greetings, Happy Kwanzaa."

So now, when you're greeted in a store, the helpful employee has to reference every upcoming religious holiday, rather than some generic catchphrase that summarizes them all? In LA, I sometimes go into stores where they can't be bothered to lift their head up and acknowledge my existance, where you have to actively beg the employee for a little help. Just today, I went to New Japan, a great take-out Japanese place on Santa Monica Blvd., and waited nearly 15 minutes for service because the cashier was making a personal cell phone call.

According to Bill, she not only should have taken my order more speedily, but sang the first three verses of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

Can you believe this man has his own radio and TV shows? He's clearly a completely out of touch idiot.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Special Guest Blogger: Arnold Schwarzenegger

[For those of you from out of state, California Governor Ahnold initiated a bullshit special election to pass through some of his more aggressive policies. The strategy backfired, as California voters, fed up with Arnold's failure to keep any of his electoral promises and his terrorizing of labor unions and other so-called "special interests," failed to pass a single one of his proposals.

The Governator requested that I provide him some blog space to explain how he intends to move forward from this point. Why didn't he want to use some other venue, like national television? I don't know. If he wanted to use the Internet, and even a blog, why not go to a resoundingly popular one like or Atrios? I'm not sure. It does strike me as kind of a bad call. But then again, he's clearly not the best strategizer.]

The people of Caleefurneea have spoken, and they have declared that they don't like me very much. This is surprising, because I have been very popular in Keelifurnya for many years, dating back to when I made them all a shitload of money by taking off my shirt and shooting at kidnappers and invisible aliens and Sarah Conner. I haven't felt this rejected by my public since I saw the first-weekend Box Office take for Jingle All the Way.

Here is what I said to the press earlier today:

Asked if there was anything he would do differently, Schwarzenegger said, "If I was to make another Terminator movie, I would tell Terminator to travel back in time to tell Arnold not to have another special election."

And right after I made this statement, I realized something...The voters of Chellefernia only seem to like me when I remind them of all the great movies I have starred in over the years. So, from this point forward, i want to make a promise to all of the citizens of this great state:

I will only advance policies based on my old films.

Here are some of the planks in my new platform:

- We must immediately institute a new TV game show in which Callllleeeeeeeephornians who have committed crimes are placed inside an elaborate death trap. Then, I will come out wearing a colorful suit covered in spikes, and try to kill them. (The advertising proceeds can go to midnight basketball games for inner city kids!)

- All kindergarten teachers must be proficient with a shotgun and familiar with advanced interrogation techniques, including the extraordinarily useful "Who Is Your Daddy And What Does He Do" protocol.

- We must set up an investigative committee to look into the advanced research being done by Cyberdyne Systems. I don't trust those guys.

- If a man, through advanced scientific techniques, somehow gets pregnant with Emma Thompson's baby, he cannot get an abortion after the first trimester.

- Track down all living members of the Crimson Jihad and smoke them out of their holes.

- Universal "face exploding due to the intense atmospheric pressure on the Planet Mars" insurance

- Issue a public apology, on behalf of myself, Joel Schumacher, DC Comics and the entire Warner Brothers development team for Batman and Robin

There will be many more proposals to come, but I think my new message is clear. Love me not because I am a competant leader or politician, but because I have starred in several fun movies, many of them featuring elaborate special effects.

Exceedingly Strange Brew

Rick Moranis has recorded a country and bluegrass album full of his own original songs.

Yeah, seriously.

No, for real. Rick Moranis. The SCTV guy. If you'll all recall the movie version of the Little Shop of Horrors musical, Rick sang all his own songs in there. He doesn't exactly have what I'd call a beautiful voice, but his vocal stylings aren't as embarrassing as, say, the dirtbag husband of a certain former pop icon.

It's just weird to hear this nerdy guy from New York, famous for being 1/2 of the Mackenzie Brothers and starring in some classic 80's comedies (Hello? Ghostbusters?), singing goofy country music.

And the songs are pretty goofy, at least the two they have available online. One is actually a parody of that old Johnny Cash "I've Been Everywhere" song. What can I say? Rick's really got his finger on the pulse.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

That Joke Isn't Funny Any More

I don't watch "The Tonight Show" ever, because I can not stand Jay Leno. He's the absolute definition of safe, bland, middle-of-the-road comedy. I understand that he has to try and appeal to the widest possible audience, and most Americans don't want their post-news fall-asleep hour to be too edgy, outrageous or exciting. But, Jay Leno is just such an unfunny, fawning simp. He wasn't funny even before he had a TV show, when he was free to appeal to any audience he chose.

But there's something, I think, a bit more pernicious about Leno. And not just Jay Leno, but a lot of political comedians of his ilk. I think that sometimes, they take real problems and issues and make them frivolous. I think that sometimes, genuine and truthful observations about our world are turned too quickly into just another cliched punchline.

Here's the best example I can think of...The role of Dick Cheney in our government for the last 5 years. Now, we all know that Dick Cheney has been a powerful vice-president. A party leader who essentially appointed himself to the VP position, Cheney and his office have set much of Bush's overall agenda since 2000, most notably in the lead-up to the Iraq War.

Leno and other political comics started goofing on this from Day One. It has become standard to refer to Cheney as "The Real President" and so forth. But when you just make this into a joke, it cheapens the reality. It makes a highly unfortunate situation - the fact that a shadowy figure, whose background remains unknown to most Americans, singularly wields an inordinate amount of power - into an accepted, everyday fact.

There was a time when I would have said, "Well, so what? You can't stop people from making jokes, and it doesn't hurt any one, and it's just how some people process new information." But now I think I can differentiate between types of humor.

When "The Daily Show" makes fun of Dick Cheney, they don't just make a cheesy "he's the real bhehind-the-scenes president" joke. They actual give you some context, often using a quote from Cheney or a real piece of found footage to highlight their message. The joke itself is the same - this unelected guy actually runs shit - but you come away with more insight into the situation than you might have had before.

But when Jay Leno or some other shitty "current events" comedian does yet another lame "Bush is stupid and Cheney is the actual president" joke, it actually kills the dialogue about that topic. There is a chilling effect, because to make that real observation is to repeat a stupid punchline.

Think about it. Let's say, you're in a coffee shop and you've just finished reading Dan Drezner's terrific column from yesterday about Cheney's excessive influence over US policy towards the torture of detainees. You comment to the person next to you - "Hey, did you read this thing Drezner's talking about from the Washington Post? Dick Cheney's still trying to convince people that torture is okay!"

And they'll just respond with something trite: "Well, we always knew he ran the show, you know."

And that's it. Conversation over. It's no longer an item of significance, because Carlos Mencia has been cracking wise about it 24-7 for a year now.

I can think of many, many topics which have suffered this fate. I'll call it Bad Comedy Fatigue (or BCF, for short). Bush's lack of intelligence is another big one. So is our failure to find any WMD's in Iraq. (And if you think I'm just making this whole phenomenon up, consider this article about Bush intentionally trying to turn the WMD fiasco into a joke).

And as long as I've brought up Carlos Mencia, is he not the worst professional stand-up comedian of all time? Seriously, he makes Carrot Top look like Eddie Murphy in Delirious. His jokes are absolutely ridiculously ancient and stupid. Every single joke is a Leno-style "zinger."

Here's how you compose a Leno or Mencia-style zinger. First, think of something that happened this week that you want to write a joke about.

It should be either something that everyone knows about (like a big news story) or something that can be easily explained in about 20 seconds. For my example, I'll use the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. (Bearing in mind that, in my joke, I won't be able to discuss any specific details about Samuel Alito, for fear of going over someone's head...Only the fact that he's a judge nominated to a big court).

Okay, now all you need is a lame joke about a famous person. Here are some samples:

- Michael Moore is fat
- George Bush is dumb
- Elton John and George Michael are gay
- Ted Kennedy is a fat drunk
- Madonna is a whore
- Paris Hilton is a rich whore
- Tara Reid is a stupid whore with big fake cans
- Lindsay Lohan is a whore who does a lot of coke
- Kevin Federline is a redneck

Please feel free to think of your own. Try to think of a celebrity everyone in America knows about, including old people and out-of-it weirdos and people who work 80 hours a week. Also, try to think of obvious flaws. Courtney Cox may have one arm that's slightly longer than the other, but that's not really going to sell the joke.

All you need to do is pair a celebrity with an obvious flaw to your news story. After thinking about it for all of 2 minutes, I have realized that I can tie Samuel Alito's nomination as a judge to Lindsay Lohan's legal troubles (particularly in terms of her jailbird father).

Then, it's just a matter of getting the wording right. So the joke would sound a little something a-like a-this...

"I don't know if you guys saw this...Sam Alito, new judge, nominated to the Supreme Court. They say, if and when he's confirmed, he'll have a backlog of something like 200 cases to deal with. Yeah! You believe that? 200 cases. And that's just Lindsay Lohan's file!"

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Broken Social Scene at the Henry Fonda Theater

Just got back from seeing Canadian supergroup Broken Social Scene at the Henry Fonda. Overall, it was a terrific show. They played a lot of great songs from their awesome new self-titled, and many of my favorites from their previous album, "You Forgot It In People." BSS brings along a huge group of talented musicians - there's a horn section, a violinist, multiple vocalists and drummers on many songs, and 5 guitar players. They have a really full, baroque, lush kind of sound, and a lot of the up-tempo songs really rawk hard live.

It also never hurts to have 3 attractive female musicians on stage with your band at all times. One of the girl vocalists had this Princess Leia-style haircut, which taken along with her beautiful voice and the fact that she's in a cool indie rock band, makes her the most desirable girl I have encountered in a while. Seriously, a girl would have to be a nymphomaniac with an endless supply of Oxycontin who worked in a chocolate factory to be more desirable than a cute indie rock girl who's reminiscent of Princess Leia.

Highlights from the set included "Lover's Spit" and "Almost Crimes" from "You Forgot It In People" and "Major Label Debut," "Superconnected" and "Ibi Dreams of Pavement" from the new album. "Bandwitch" also sounds great live, which is surprising because it's probably my least favorite song on the actual LP.

I did have a few complaints about the show, enumerated here in no particular order:

- Lead singer/de facto frontman Kevin Drew kept making googly eyes at the female lead singer from Feist, the opening act. She sang with BSS for most of the set, but was be distracted often by Drew's constant attention. At one point, they slow-danced on stage together. It was semi-gross. Also, why no love for the Princess Leia girl?

- The band jammed out the last song of the encore forever. I have it when bands end a show with a really long, slow, pointless jam session. Are they trying to fool you into thinking the show was longer than it really was, so you think you got your money's worth? Is it just egotism? Like, a show by Broken Social Scene is such an epic, important undertaking, you need time for the experience to soak in? The single longest, lamest end-of-show fade-out I have ever seen was Built to Spill at the House of Blues on Sunset. I think Doug Martsch held a single note on the guitar for 45 minutes to end that goddamn show. Hey, Doug, you may not have to wake up early in the morning tomorrow, but not all of us get paid to diddle around on an intrsument until 3 am. We have jobs. (Back then, I had an actual job.)

- Kevin Drew did that thing where the guy in the band tells the audience to yell really loud, and then everyone yells and then they tell you that you didn't yell loud enough. I hate that thing. It's such bullshit. I didn't pay $30 and drive across Los Angeles after a long day at work to yell. I did it to listen to Broken Social Scene play music. So, get to it. Why does every rock singer feel the need to do this? Do they teach it the first day in Rock School? "Kids, if you ever feel that the audience isn't connecting enough with the music, just tell them to yell really loud, and then discourage them by saying that they didn't yell loud enough, and force them to do it again. Also, tell an anecdote about the last time you were in their hometown, preferably one that doesn't go anywhere."

- I was considering getting a Broken Social Scene T-shirt, mainly because I'm running out of clean T-shirts. But they only had shirts appropriate for girls or little weenie guys who want to wear extremely tight yellow or pink shirts. And I am neither of the above. So I don't get a shirt? I don't get it...When did every indie rock band become Jean Paul Gaultier, designing clothing only for the 1% of Americans without a visible paunch? From now on, Broken Social Scene, all your shirts should come in S M L and XL, and they should come in some color other than "Goofy Homo Pink." Deal?

Other than that, a good time was had by all.

Monday, November 07, 2005

We Do Not Torture

I've been trying to branch out from screenwriting. I'd like to start writing plays. More specifically, theater of the absurd. Here is my first attempt. I call it "We Do Not Torture."



[The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES and the VOICE OF REASON sit on a rock. As they speak, they try on a pair of boots (one boot each), then switch boots, then discard them altogether.]


BUSH: We do not torture.
REASON: But what about those people in Abu Gharib? Surely we have confirmed reports that some of them were tortured.
BUSH: We do not torture.
REASON: But there are pictures.
BUSH: We do not torture.
REASON: They're famous! They've already become cliches in America. Like that one with the woman smoking a cigarette and pointing to the half-naked Arab man.
BUSH: We do not torture.
REASON: I've seen them.
BUSH: We do not torture.
REASON: But other countries have confirmed that we house prisoners there.
BUSH: We do not torture.
REASON: Well, why would we even be hiding these people, including people who have committed no crime and have never been officially charged with a crime, in foriegn prisons if not to torture them?
BUSH: We do not torture.
REASON: You're going to deny it in the face of all that evidence?
BUSH: Hang on. I'm going to go clear some brush.

[The PRESIDENT leaves the rock and disappears off-stage.]


[The PRESIDENT, having returned from cleaning brush, is now perched atop his rock again. He's naked except for a cowboy hat. Another man, dressed in a smart suit, enters from off-stage. He is SENATOR MCCAIN.]

BUSH: We do not torture.
MCCAIN: Well, then, Mr. President, woudl you just sign this paper promising not to torture anyone?
MCCAIN: Why not?
BUSH: We do not torture.
MCCAIN: Then just sign this paper promising that you don't torture, and won't torture, and I'll get out of your hair.
BUSH: Um. No.


[PRESIDENT BUSH stands alone on a dark stage. He has some clothes on now, a suit like the one MCCAIN wore.]

BUSH: We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture. We do not torture.

What I Did Today

Normally, I hate blogs where the authors just write about whatever they did that day. Unfortunately, this accounts for 99% of all blogs. It's usually something like this.


OMG WTF today B told me he wasn't going to no party at Fawntenelle's place, tho he sed he wuz the other day when we wuz chillin' by the bleachers bumping that hot new Chingy joint... SMD OMFG 11111


At 11:30, I went to work. You can usually tell when it's going to be a particularly crazy day down at the store (a crazy day being one in which more than 5 totally batshit insane people come to shop there), and this morning started off slow. But after the first hour, I'd probably helped at least 3 nutjobs. So I was getting wary.

A few hours in, the boss told us that one out of the three working employees could take off early. He did not, however, specify which employee. And of course all three of us wanted to leave.

We thought for a good long while about how best to handle the situation. All the usual suspects were mentioned: rock paper scissors, drawing straws, flipping a coin, but all had significant down sides. There's really no way to do a totally fair rock paper scissors decision between three people, unless you devise a sort-of RPS Tournament. And that's just kind of lame to take part in (not to mention time-consuming and requiring rudimentary math skills).

And, if we were to draw straws, we'd first need three straws, and then a sufficient cutting tool. I could see that whole situation going awry really quickly.

So I suggested the following: we have a randomly selected customer take a piece of paper and write down a number between 1 and 100, not showing the paper to any of us. Then, we each choose a number. Whoever gets closest to the number of the paper goes home early.

And none of this "Price is Right" no going over nonsense. Whoever's closest in either direction takes the taco. Once we agreed to this strategy, and that no one would call foul afterwards for some sort of ticky-tack BS, I asked a regular customer to pick a number. He spent a little bit too long thinking of a number - as if the mere act of thinking of any random number from 1-100 was some sort of strenuous labor - and then jotted something down. I held it, for safekeeping, under a nearby leftover Halloween jack-o-lantern.

Co-Worker #1, Ari, chose 3. It was an interesting decision, cutting himself off at the very bottom like that. If there was the "no going over" rule, I could see his decision-making. We'd all probably go a bit higher, so if the number was anywhere from 3-20 something, he was nearly guaranteed a win.

I went next. I chose 32. I figured, it's a good distance from 3, so I get a bunch of numbers in that direction, and my next co-worker would probably go with a high number after that, meaning that anything from 17 to something like the 50's would be mine.

Instead, Co-Worker #2, Ray, went with 13. An interesting move. Okay, I'll say it, a bad move. I think maybe he and Ari were both still thinking that they couldn't go over the chosen number.

Anyway, the number was 64, so it wouldn't have mattered. I won outright, no matter how you figure it. And I instantly felt really guilty. I had chosen the game, and I had blurted out "32" before Ray had a chance to speak, so I felt like there was an appearance of impropriety. I was even going to suggest a do-over, but I had been the one to initially say "no do-overs," so it just felt kind of wrong and hypocritical. My co-workers took it really well, but was there, deep down, burning feelings of resentment? Only time will tell...

So I got to leave work at around 4:30, which was nice. I proceeded to utterly waste the "found" afternoon watching the first season of "Veronica Mars" on DVD. I also took a break to go check out the brand-new digs of my friends Jeff and Garth, two-thirds of the terrific LA band The Ventriloquists. We watched the local news until it became depressing, and then Garth played for me and Jeff the brand-new mix of their song "Toxic Sun."

We then made a bizarre discovery. If you play the chorus of said song backwards in ProTools, it sounds exactly like South African music. Seriously, this could have been a B-Side from Paul Simon's "Graceland" album. We started having strange science-fiction themed ideas, like what if our language and some African language were actually identical, only with all the actual sounds reversed. I suggested that this would make a good Dean Koontz story...A composer writes a great new song, but discovers that, if played backwards, his song is actually some crazy old tribal song used to summon a demon to Earth or some bullshit like that.

It could be very Lovecraftian and awesome. If you're a huge movie producer and are interested in funding a big-budget adapatation of this idea, please e-mail me as soon as you've finished wiring the money to my Swiss bank account.

Then I came home and discussed Roommate Crisis '05 with Nathan and Chris. See, Roommate Chris is moving out in two weeks, with November being his last month as a dues-paying member of Team Palms. Vineet was originally going to fill Chris' vacancy, but he is a dirty double-crosser. Now we are actively showing our apartment to potential new roommates.

Unfortunately, prospective roommates don't stay for long. Usually, we let them inside, they take one look around, and then make for the door like the place was filled with flu-infected seagulls. Seriously, we had a guy in here the other day who left so quickly...I don't even think he went out the door. He just flung himself out the nearest available opening.

And they always want to be polite, these prospective roommates. They never want to say, "Oh, this place is small and gross and you guys are lame, I don't want to live here." They always have to pretend to really like your apartment.

"Oh, yeah, this looks nice, well, I'll give you guys a call, I have about 8 more places to see tonight, so I've got to go, but let me know if you don't find anyone because I think it might be okay, and I really should get out of here, but you've got my number, oh you don't, well, I've got yours so I'll be in touch okay you guys have a good night I'm gonna go. Nice 'Simpsons' poster."

Yes, I do have a poster with The Simpsons on it, but we also have a Kandinsky print hanging up. So it's, you know, classy.

Hopefully, we'll eventually get someone to hang out for long enough to enjoy our sparkling personalities. Then, I'm sure the fact that we live in a cramped, unkempt hovel above a parking lot that substitutes as a Daycare Center and Produce Market will cease to matter entirely.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

7 Things I Hate About You

(With "you" in this sentence meaning you, dear reader, only if you happen to be Jennifer Aniston.)

Special thanks to Atrios, king of the lefty blogosphere now that that Greek guy has imploded, for pointing out this delightful (by which I mean hilariously nonsensical) Newsweek interview with Jennifer Aniston.

In it, she describes the 7 things she'd prefer to talk about than her recent divorce from Brad "You're Not Your Fucking Khakis" Pitt and copulation with Vince "That's So Money, Baby" Vaughn. She clearly doesn't understand that hooking up with movie stars is what makes her interesting in the first place. I mean, you know, now that people are over her amazing goddamn haircut.

So here are, in order I presume, things Jen finds more interesting than her various sexual and romantic escapades.

1. My new movie, "Derailed."

It's a really sexy psychological thriller with Clive Owen. I had never done a thriller before. It was hard to kiss Clive, but you know what? Somebody had to do it, and that's what they pay me for.

Right away, the lunacy begins. This article is titled "Things I'd Rather Talk About Than The Men in My Life." And the very first item she'd rather talk getting it on with a sexy famous guy. Jen, have a seat, let me explain something to you...

See, the thing is, you're intensely shallow. It's okay. Lots of people in Los Angeles are this way. But you've got to stop pretending that you're not intensely shallow. Please. Whenever you're around a famous guy, you go a big wet one. I'm cool with it, I just wish you were cool with it, too.

And, by the way, whenever the actors in a movie describe the movie as "really sexy," that means it's not sexy. If a movie is actually sexy, the actors involved describe the experience as "really degrading."

2. My dog, Norman.

I got him from the animal trainers on "Friends"—the ones who worked with the chick, the duck and the monkey. He was an actor dog, but he was so lazy that he had a terrible reputation. He wouldn't hit his mark. He just sat there. They said they sent his doggie head shot out and he wasn't getting any calls.

Your dog's name is Norman? What kind of lame, boring dog name is Norman? Does he work in the Doggie Accounts Payable Department or something? Today, my co-worker Ray was openly considering the possibility of naming his first-born son Qui-Gonn, and even that seems more reasonable than naming a cute little dog "Norman."

3. How little I actually cry.

I'm pegged as a crier, aren't I? I was upset about the Vanity Fair article. I had one moment when I got emotional because I hadn't sat down with an interviewer since this whole debacle took place. It happened for a second and then it was over. But I do cry when I watch shows about babies being born. And I can turn on Terms of Endearment at any point and start crying—or The Champ with Rick Schroder.

"When I watch shows about babies being born"? What shows are these, exactly? Does she mean, like, episodes of sitcoms in which babies are born? Or whole TV shows about the birthing process. Because I saw one of those "shows" in high school health class, and it certainly brought out strong emotions, but it was more like intense nausea than sadness.

4. The long-term effects of Botox.

It seems like people are messing around with dangerous stuff. Look at some of the faces out there! Men age gracefully, although you're seeing more men having plastic surgery, which is weird. Nothing is worse than a guy with an eye job—and don't think we can't tell.

I really must invite Jen over next time I have a dinner party. She sounds like a truly fascinating conversationalist with a lot of insightful opinions about the key issues of the day. I'm sorry, but I've now run out of sarcasm. I'll post another quote from her interview to give myself a chance to reload.

5. The state of television.

Where are all the sitcoms? Why are we so obsessed with reality TV? We don't know how to write and create good shows. I wonder if reality TV is adding to the obsession with the rag magazines that create all those soap operas with celebrities. So-and-so is scratching so-and-so's eyes out—and, oh, my God, they may meet! It's so pathetic.

Oh, man, is there anything more obnoxious than pampered celebrities railing on and on about the tabloids? Seriously, I know you guys hate the tabloids. They invade your privacy, it's embarrassing, I get it...But you've really got to stop bringing it up constantly. We're all sick to death of hearing about it from you all the time. And that beating up on papparazzi thing that Sean Penn and Clooney do to feel like big men? That makes you guys come off like little whiny bitches, okay? Just deal with it. You're rich and famous, for fuck's sake, things could be worse. If you really can't stand it any more, make a movie with Mark Steven Johnson. Things will probably take cvare of themselves from there on in.

Plus, the ex-star of a lame sitcom going off about how there should be more sitcoms and less reality shows...Guess what, Jen, I've seen a bunch of episodes of "Friends," and you guys aren't 1/100,000 as amusing as P. Diddy ridiculing a room full of exhausted, malnourished girls wearing nothing but spandex and navel jewelry.

6. The state of the world.

How about that indictment?! And why did it take so long to respond to the crisis in New Orleans? Everything is imploding. It all seems to lead back to our dear president.

This is #6 out of 7? We had to talk about Botox and your fucking dog before this? Next time you're ranking things that are more important than the fact that you're schtupping the guy from Wedding Crashers, maybe START with the thousands dead in New Orleans and the crisis of corruption in the highest levels of our government, how's about that?

7. Radiohead.

When are they going to make a new album? Where are they? Where did they go? I also want to know why Steve Perry left Journey.

Oh, it sucks when vapid celebrities reveal they have your exact same taste in music. (Although was "Hail to the Thief" really that long ago? Are we already at the point of demanding new Radiohead music vocally?) And, please, Jen, don't even discuss Radiohead in the same sentence as Steve Perry. It hurts my soul.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

It's difficult to write about Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang for the benefit of those who have not seen the film. Really, the movie is about layered storytelling. What initially seems like it's going to be the story is really just a lead-in to the lead-in to the lead-in to the actual story. Writer/director Shane Black has piled so many levels of artifice into a single 100 minute film, the final effect is bewildering. You feel as if you've been told seven or eight engaging, funny and outrageous stories, and they all kind of link together in an odd way, but the experience taken as a whole it doesn't make any logical sense.

A simple summary might go as follows: "A thief posing as an actor and his childhood crush become involved in the complicated kidnapping case of a wealthy heiress." But the mystery itself is only background. This is a story about the fun and excitement of telling a story, and Shane Black's enthusiasm for this kind of punchy, strange, absurdist, darkly comic post-modern action-adventure is evident in every frame.

Dopey NYC transplant Harry Lockhart (Robert Downey Jr. in maybe his most fall-down funny performance ever) narrates the entire film in a wry, self-aware manner. He's a movie narrator in the style of Christina Ricci in The Opposite of Sex or Ed Norton in Fight Club. It's a risky technique. Often, this sort of constant "commentary" on the action of the movie can grow tedious and annoying, particularly if it's clear that the narration exists only to tie together disparate plot threads or hold the audience's attention through a dull stretch of narrative.

But in Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Harry's voice is essential. Not only because he's our guide to a considerably confusing and wholly original Los Angeles underworld, but also because his observations about the act of telling a story underline the entire point of the movie. Without Harry actually fretting about getting the details right, and nervously trying to contain his enthusiasm for the bits when the story gets really good, this could have been just another backstage Hollywood satire, albeit with more gunplay and gay jokes.

So what is the movie about? Harry, through a bizarre series of coincidences, finds himself giving up his criminal ways in New York and coming out to Los Angeles at the behest of a producer (Larry Miller). Soon enough, he finds himself at a party with a childhood friend, the stunningly beautiful Harmony (a wonderful performance from relative newcomer Michelle Monaghan), as well as the openly gay private investigator/movie consultant known to everyone as Gay Perry (a delightfully deadpan Val Kilmer).

Perry is working on a case for a young woman, tailing the scion of former actor and current wealthy socialite Harlan Dexter. Harry, on the other hand, is hired by Harmony to find out the truth behind her younger sister's recent suicide. (Harry has lied to Harmony and told her he is a private detective in order to get into her pants.)

Of course, the two cases turn out to be connected, and all three will spend the next several days pursuing men with guns, engaging in all manner of fight sequences, shootouts and car chases, and Harry will even be tortured with electrodes attached to his genitals. Though Black's witty, nimble dialogue garners a lot of laughs, it's really the outrageousness of his vision and the element of surprise that make Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang so ridiculously entertaining. Every time you think he has allowed the violence or the comedy to go as far as it can go, there's another scene with another shocking moment at the ready.

But, again, this is the point. It's a movie about what movies do, looking into how we can get swept up in an adventure that's constantly alerting us to its own improbability. Black gets us involved in a scenario before turning everything on its ear and uprooting the viewer again and again, but even better, he tells us beforehand that he's going to do it.

In a particularly clever device, Harmony initially came to Los Angeles because of an obsession with a series of pulp novels following a detective named Johnny Gossamer. Early on in the film, she and Harry reminisce about the books, noting that they always involve two mysteries that congeal into one, that they always include a gratuitous torture scene, random sex and a violent climax. One guess as to whether Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang will include all of these sequences (not to mention featuring a title that could suit any Gossamer book).

There are many many many more levels to the film I could discuss, but as I said, it will only really work as an immersive experience. Describing this kind of exuberant, over-the-top comedy doesn't do anyone any good.

What I can say is that the performances, particularly those of Kilmer, Downey Jr. and the beautiful Ms. Monaghan, are stellar. Kilmer plays a variation on several other characters, even his gruff, no-nonsense spook in David Mamet's somewhat disasterous Spartan, but with that real movie-star charisma he channels occasionally. I don't know what it is with this guy...When he's on, he's fucking dynamite - Jim Morrison, Doc Holliday. Iceman! But in so many other films, he slips into this tedious, bland, ponderous, nearly comatose state. Maybe he just needs to connect with the material. Gay Perry is one of the best characters I've seen in any movie this year.

And Downey Jr. also rises to the occasion. He's got more screen time than anyone else, and it's a role that requires a certain amount of manic energy. It would have been possible to go way too far and turn screechy rather than just neurotic, whiny and occasionally in pain. If this were Robin Williams and not Robert Downey Jr., the thing could have been an unmitigated disaster. But Rob's on top of his game, and manages to keep the whole convoluted thing together through sheer will.

And as I said before, Monaghan is incredibly beatiful and engaging and fun to watch (and willing to do one phenomenal scene topless!) She has that rare ability among attractive young actresses to seem entirely at home using salty language, cracking wise and cleaning up corpses. She's quite a find, and if only more people were going out to see this film, it could be a breakthrough performance.

And last but not least deserving of my unadulterated praise is writer Shane Black, famous since the 80's for penning the scripts to films like Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight. (Yes, fine, okay, and Last Action Hero). I enjoy the first three of those movies, but to my mind, Black has never written a more delirious, chaotic and funny script. The fact that he makes his directorial debut with a movie this complex and layered is rather stunning. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang is that rare movie with the ability to not only entertain but surprise, not just in how well in all comes together, but that something so unique, strange and disarming would be made at all.